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Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Home Editorial Too big, too powerful

Too big, too powerful

At a certain point, the Sir Barry Bowen businesses appeared to have become too big to fail, too powerful to resist, because the businesses, which feature the production and distribution of Coca Cola soft drinks, Belikin beer and stout, and Guinness stout, and include a tourist nature resort and a shrimp factory, employed too many Belizeans. Both United Democratic Party (UDP) and People’s United Party (PUP) governments, such as the first UDP government under Dr. Manuel Esquivel and the first PUP government of Rt. Hon. Said Musa, went out of their way to bail out Sir Barry, when he was in trouble with a Panamanian bank in the case of the 1984-1989 Esquivel administration, and awarding him extraordinary tax concessions, such as was the case during the 1998-2003 Said Musa government.

In the case of the present Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, political insiders know that in his first venture into national politics in the December 1984 general elections, his chief financier in the Queen’s Square constituency was Sir Barry. It so happened that Mr. Barrow’s opponent in 1984 was the one Ralph Fonseca, whom Sir Barry had fired from his Belize Brewing Company earlier that year. It was very important to Sir Barry for Ralph to be humbled in that very first Queen’s Square race, and so Mr. Barrow benefited greatly from Bowen largesse.

Until the Bowen family acquired the Coca Cola franchise in the early 1960s in British Honduras, the family was Belizean white royalty, but, under their colonial patriarch, the late Eric Bowen, the family was highly prestigious but not considered remarkably wealthy. Eric Bowen’s older son, Barry, attended Cornell University, and upon his return home he succeeded in establishing the Belize Brewing Company, which was granted a development concession by the then PUP Government of Belize and still retains same, 47 years later.

Belikin was first produced in 1969, the same year this newspaper was established, but the Belikin project was one highly favored by the PUP government of the time, because this was the era of import substitution in Caribbean economic thinking, and the Bowen family passed all the tests of color, respectability, and loyalty to Buckingham Palace.

This newspaper, on the other hand, came out of a black power organization and was considered somehow threatening to the PUP administration, hence the publishers were arrested, charged with sedition, and tried in the Supreme Court in early 1970. The tale of Belikin and Amandala, then, born in the same year, may be considered a tale of two very different businesses.

Sporting events were a very important area where sales of soft drinks, beer, and stout were concerned. All sports in Belize, except for boxing, fell under the umbrella of institutionalized amateurism, and amateurism was and is controlled regionally and internationally by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Belize Olympic Committee, which fell under the control of the Bowen & Bowen businesses about four decades ago, controls the granting of the credentials which are necessary for any Belizean athlete to travel and compete abroad.

In 1975, the publisher of this newspaper became the manager of the football team sponsored by the Charger beer company, which had begun manufacturing beer around 1972, without a development concession. By 1975, however, the underdog Charger beer, owned by the brothers Arturo and Orlando Matus, was seriously challenging Belikin in beer sales, although Belikin stout remained dominant.

It was not Evan X Hyde’s intention to get into any conflict with Barry Bowen when he accepted Arturo Matus’ offer to manage the Charger football team in September of 1975. Belikin did not have a football team. In 1975, this newspaper was a struggling enterprise. Evan X Hyde was a street figure who gambled at Mike’s Club and had built the Tough Guys dominoes team into a championship group. (In fact, Belikin sponsored the first Tough Guys championship team.) Football was the X’s first love, and rebuilding the Charger team was a challenge.

The new Charger team, led by Harry Cadle, immediately became a hit with football fans, and Evan X Hyde soon began pushing for professionalism, or some form thereof, in senior football. In this initiative, Charger was supported by Christobal Mayen and Bailar Smith of Berger 404, the defending champions, and Sir Andie of White Label. Unbeknownst to X Hyde, the professionalism initiative, not to mention the Charger team’s popularity, placed him in conflict with the Bowen beverages empire, which was dedicated to amateurism. By early 1977, with the Charger team under pressure from football referees and officials, he withdrew from the team’s management, thinking his activist past may have been the problem. But, the beer war just became worse, and then violent.

Following the PUP victory in the 1979 general election, new Sports Minister Said Musa chose Evan X Hyde to become the first chairman of a new National Sports Council. X Hyde soon withdrew his name from consideration, however, because of grumblings coming from local Olympic quarters, which he understood to be controlled by the Bowen business empire.

Finally, in late 1990, open war broke out between Kremandala and Bowen & Bowen. The problem was the Milpros football team, managed by Charles X Hyde, and the fact that the football presidency was then controlled by Bowen & Bowen. Out of that conflict, semi-professionalism finally emerged in Belizean sports in 1991. This is a long and interesting story.

As we conclude this essay, let us declare categorically, and younger readers will be surprised, that in the 1950s, Belizean boxing was superior to Jamaica’s. Belizeans Emilio Sanchez and Rudolph Bent went to Jamaica to compete. Bent fathered children there, and Sanchez became the coach of the Jamaican national boxing team. In the 1960s, Belizean and Jamaican football were on par. By the end of the 1960s, Belizean ladies softball had become superior to Jamaica’s, and in fact the best in the Caribbean.

All this is leading to the issue of the moment. The Kaina Martinez injustice has been swept under the rug in Belize, and this is because everyone is afraid of Bowen & Bowen. Bowen & Bowen may be too big to fail and too powerful to resist, but if Bowen & Bowen’s interests supersede those of the human rights of Belizean youth, then perhaps we can begin to understand what is the problem in this city and country. There should be an investigation into what happened to Kaina Martinez and her 2016 Olympic dream. The reason there has not been such an investigation is because, we submit, Rosemary’s baby would end up at King Street’s door.

Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie – murdered at Caracol on September 25, 2014.

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